The Ottawa Knights were born in the back of a bus in July 1975. A group of friends, returning to Ottawa from a leather weekend in Montreal, decided it was time Ottawa had a leather club of its own. After all, a lot of familiar faces were turning at Bud's, Montreal's one and only leather bar.
The club had its first meeting that August. Al Hodgins joined the club a few weeks later and was a member until his untimely death. The Knights didn't waste any time and by the end of September, had already organized a weekend run near Perth - an event that included a bonfire so big that neighbouring farmers thought a barn was on fire.
That first year also saw our first bar night held at Valentino's in Hull. In the years that followed, Ottawa Knights bar nights are an important social event for Ottawa's gay community. Quite a few people have discovered an interest in leather after having attended them. We turned up at most Ottawa bars at least once, but didn't find a real home until 1991, when we adopted Centretown Pub (now known as Centretown Pub Complex) as our home bar. That fall, we launched a monthly bar night schedule that continues today. Not long after, we made Ed and Wayne, the owners of "CPC", Honorary Members, and they repaid the favour by creating Cellblock on the top floor of CP, Ottawa's first (and still only) real leather bar.
Our bar nights are a major social event for Ottawa's leather community;
more than just an excuse to get out and party. They also serve as an opportunity to raise money for the club, the local GLBTQ community and HIV/AIDS-related charities. Our most popular and best-known charity event is "Toys for Tots". First held in 1976, this annual Christmas toy drive collects toys and cash donations for under privileged children. In 1982, we began delivering donations to a social service agency in an Ottawa Valley town. As former member, Barry Trudeau recalls, "The first year we went to their office, they had hardly anything there. We walked in with this huge carload of toys, and pretty soon the ladies in the office were crying, we were crying - it was just incredible." We've gone back every year since.
Since we got our start on the road, it's not surprising that we'd turn out to be frequent travelers. Our familiar back patch and burgundy shirt have frequently been seen in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, and northern New York State; sometimes even further afield. We've attended events all across Canada and the U.S. and have even turned up in South America, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa. The most important thing about traveling isn't where we go but whom we meet there. Being in a leather club gives us a unique opportunity to meet other people who share common (and not so common) interests. We've made a lot of
Friends, both GDI's and members of other clubs.
For that reason, we wanted to give our out-of-town friends a reason to visit
Ottawa. In 1992 we launched the annual Mr. Leather Ottawa-Hull competition. From a one-night affair in a community centre basement, it has grown to become Canada's biggest and best leather event. It has gained an international reputation for its entertainment value, the quality of its weekend events and for the quality of the men chosen as its titleholders.
A lot has changed in 40 years. When the Ottawa Knights began, homosexuality had only just been decriminalized in Canada and simply being gay - never mind being into leather/BDSM- was enough to cost you your job. The club was a secretive and private group. Today, same-sex couples enjoy the same benefits and protections as common-law couples. Members of the Ottawa Knights are respected leaders in Ottawa's GLBTQ community, and are often interviewed by the mainstream media, particularly for their annual MLO events.
Some things haven't changed however: it’s still all about brotherhood, about finding friends who share common interests and learning to embrace who we are. Thirty-eight years after that bus trip from Montreal, the Ottawa Knights are going strong and much of the credit goes to its founding members! Thanks for being here to help us celebrate the leather fetish kink lifestyle in Ottawa.